American Airlines Brings Back 24 Hour Reservation Holds

Update: The test period for removing the hold option from the American Airlines website has ended, and the hold option has been restored.

Original September 14, 2022 post follows:



On Tuesday American Airlines removed the option to put a flight on a 24 hour hold, rather than purchasing it right away, for many – but apparently not all – customers. Competitors haven’t had this option for years. It’s one of the things that set American Airlines apart and made them easier to buy from.

Six years ago American eliminated its commitment to offer 24 hour holds. They stopped offering it through reservations, but kept offering it on the AA.com website. Now the option appears gone, at least for now for most customers. An American Airlines spokesperson confirms:

We continue to evaluate our product offerings to customers on aa.com and understand customers may need flexibility when booking travel plans. Customers whose travel plans change after they purchased a ticket with American can receive a full refund if they cancel the ticket within 24 hours of purchase.

I understand the airline is still evaluating how customers use the option for a reservation hold through the website. There’s some indication that they want to see if forcing customers using trip credits to purchase right away could reduce calls to reservations, since they never introduced the ability to apply those to reservations on hold and that meant a phone call. Eliminating the hold option gives them a counterfactual to test against, but I don’t know odds on whether they could bring this feature back.

Bottom line is that 24 hour holds are fantastic for customers, and especially for the airline’s best and most dedicated customers they reduce time spent on the phone and reduce errors.

  • I put a reservation on hold precisely when I am going to need help over the phone. That way the agent has something concrete to work with and the call goes more quickly. It is more time consuming and error-prone to have to build complicated itineraries with agents over the phone, so holding it first is better.

  • I can also secure the reservation, and complete the transaction over the phone at my and the airline’s convenience when customer service hold times aren’t interminable.

  • This might be a reservation that I want to confirm an upgrade on contemporaneous with ticketing, or where I want to have an agent refare the reservation (sell me a more expensive ticket, in a higher fare class than what the website will book, such as to be eligible to use a Business ExtrAA upgrade). These are things you cannot do at AA.com.

  • I also may just need to secure the reservation and seats and don’t have my credit card handy. So I make the booking and come back later to pay. Without that convenience I may just not come back later, American’s pricing may change, and I may wind up booking with someone else.

However for the airline there are tradeoffs. It’s convenient for customers, but not every reservation that gets put on hold gets ticketed. And held reservations tie up inventory for 24 hours. If someone was holding the last cheap seat, American lost the opportunity to present the fare to someone else. They might lose a sale.

Like most airlines, American offers 24 hour refunds. U.S. airlines are required to choose between 24 hour refunds or 24 hour holds, and American was offering both.

It’s true that you can buy a ticket and cancel within 24 hours as long as you are purchasing at least 2 days prior to departure. (American used to only allow this when booking at least 7 days in advance.)

That’s not always a true substitute for holds. If you’re paying with a flight credit from a previous trip you cancelled 24 hour refunds don’t apply.

Fortunately the 5 day hold option for AAdvantage award redemption has not disappeared at this point.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Another (potential) nail in the coffin for AA loyalty — though some might not see it right away that this is a band move on AA’s part.

  2. Wow, that’s a real loss. I just use this last week in order to apply a trip credit that I couldn’t do myself online.

    But five day holds on rewards is more key as there is usually more going on with those kinds of reservations.

  3. What about float – Many airlines only process 24-hour cancellation refunds in 2-10 days. Gives them the advantage of use of the funds (interest) for that period. Perhaps it’s a finance advantage to AA to eliminate holds as well? Also, United (and others) have monetized the hold option – could be a factor?

  4. Damn, this sucks. Used holds at least once a week.

    And what about award holds? That’s even more critical to have, use it all the time

  5. This is a very anti-customer move, but not especially surprising, because … American Airlines. Feels to me like another baby-step toward rolling back the “permanent removal of change fees” which Gary has told us they already did for international routes.

    Like 305, I use AA holds all the time when I’m unsure of travel plans or to watch fare variability and get the best pricing.

    Paul B., AA has monetized the hold process as well, holds longer than 24 hours. AA used to offer holds longer than 24 hours at various price increments, depending how long you wanted the hold to be for. Gary doesn’t tell us if that has gone away as well, and I haven’t checked myself.

    Gary, in the title you say this is going away for “most customers” but in the post it doesn’t say who can still access 24 hour holds – is that driven by AAdvantage status level ? Or is the “most” in the title simply a reference to everyone except customers booking award travel ?

  6. Well, if the price does not change, put a 5 day award ticket hold on the flight. Then call an agent and tell them you changed your mind and want to pay cash instead. BAM!

  7. I loved that feature, as it sometimes allowed me to park an airfare while I tried to build other parts of the trip around it or check with family members their availability. AA has 24 hour hidden flash sales on some routes and I learned a long time ago to grab those on Hold while I checked, otherwise they could be gone when I got back, e.g. $269 RT to HNL from Flyover Country in Oct 2020 on 777-300ER that could be upgraded to business with 500 mile certs or Plat Pro status. That also gave a great mileage run to qualify for status this year. (Wow, have thing changed in a year on AA! Look at all those non-operative phrases…)

    As long as they keep no change fees, I’ll just need to buy and cancel. I do enough travel that credits get eaten up at a fast clip. Just means a change in strategy.

  8. Agree with other commenters, this feature has been a key “advantage” to book with AA. I have college age kids and frequently book their trips (mostly to come home for breaks and holidays) by putting a reservation on hold, forwarding details, having them confirm the timing works, and then buying the ticket. It works great; much better than cancelling and rebooking. Hope this feature remains present for certain elite statuses- that would be a real benefit of playing the Loyalty points game (though it sucks to have to earn something we previously had for free).

  9. Like others I used this but frankly the impact is minimal. You can get a full refund if cancelled within 24 hours so that is effectively a “hold” if used correctly. Someone mentioned “float” in this but shouldn’t impact anyone that pays off their credit card bill every month (as everyone should) since the credit would apply either before billing or you could just subtract it from the regular payment.

    Also I do use holds on award travel but that has even less need for a hold since all awards can be cancelled.

    BTW UA offers holds for a nominal fee so maybe AA could offer that if people really need it.

  10. I suspect the 24 hour hold will come back in the near future with a fee attached for non elites. Fee holds for certain levels.
    24 hour hold $9.99
    3 day hold $14.99
    5 day hold $19.99

  11. I would understand removing this feature if AA.com was as capable as United with credits and requesting elite upgrade instruments… but it’s not. Seems like this is just going to be more expensive in the short/medium term as travelers have to build their itineraries with an agent on the phone. Unless there is going to be a massive AA website functionality improvement this weekend.

  12. This wouldn’t be so terrible if applying credit was easier. They really just need to go to a simple “wallet” system so no one would need to hold a reservation then call & apply. Now it’s going to make a difficult task to effectively use credits near impossible.

  13. Just sent them a note. One of their best policies, especially when trying to coordinate flights and schedules in different time zones. Also, great point of having a reservation to work with when calling AA, makes ticketing a lot easier when trying to use a flight credit.

  14. These were worthless. The revenue gained by such ‘holds’ were revenue losses due to the fact 97% NEVER were used. so the time and energy spent by the agent making the hold. THEN, ticket agents having to override the hold. Then, auditors having to override the hold violation report.

    worthless.

  15. Steve, maybe we’re not talking about the same thing. The hold system I think most of us are talking about, and the one I understood Gary’s post to be addressing, was fully automated, on aa.com. Instead of buying a ticket on aa.com, you held it for 24 hours, if you didn’t buy it by midnight the next day (though it was never clear to me what time zone that was), it was automatically canceled and the seat re-opened. I guess maybe you are talking about using an agent to book a held seat ? Not sure why PAX would want to do that, except in the limited (and seemingly distinct minority of all holds) situations Gary referenced in the post, involving & requiring agent touches after the held is made on aa.com. And if you’re talking about those flavors of hold, where agent intervention is called upon, it seems like 97% of the holds WOULD convert to purchases – why else would you call an AA agent ?

  16. C_M & AC, I agree with the changed strategy plan. But is there some point at which AA shuts off your ability to buy and cancel w/24 hours ? Say you do that every day for a week to see if (as you suspect may soon happen), AA drops the fare ? Besides the hassle, and your credit card statement becoming a mess, does AA care ? Could / would they stop you ?

    On a related note, with the “no fees to change” regimen, does that include simple fare changes on the same flight, or must you change your flight ? Example – I plan ahead & I book DFW – LAX one way departing 10 am, 10 weeks before my travel date (ha – as if) for $285. 2 weeks before departure, AA cuts the fare for that same ticket to $185. Can I somehow re-book my same flight and get a $100 flight credit ? Or do I have to book a different flight offered for $185 at a different time that same day (or on another day) in order to not be punished by AA for my advance planning ? I’ve always believed it was the latter, but if I’m wrong, someone please set me straight.

  17. Valuable while waiting for a client meeting confirmation, and not for ‘bleisure’, so that’s just more business travel AA will lose for good.

  18. @Karl Rupp – I never worry about fare cuts, as I can always capture those drops, it’s fare increases that I tried to avoid with the free hold. I would occasionally put in a series of free holds as I plotted out a possible trip. Each day, one could cancel the hold, drop the flight, and then reset by rebooking it, giving you another day to plot things out. If you saw a price increase, you then had to make a decision. (It was always CT. I know because I’ve locked in tickets at 23:55 CT.)

    As for how to capture a price cut, when you see one, simply go into your reservation and click on Change Flights. Select the flight you’re currently on, and it should rebook you and award you a credit at the same time. Failing that, you can simply cancel and rebook quickly, usually getting the same seats. I have also called to get the credit for the lower flight. Not worth a hold, but if you’re on the line for another reason, they can do that for you.

  19. This is such crap, I used AA.com to book flights for my boss in another country, and that 24 hours hold helps me to have him look over the flights before I book. Now if this is gone, my loyalty is gone also. I was just booking a flight to Europe for him which cost over $3K and I noticed that the hold bottom is gone. Shame on you AA

  20. Much to do about nothing. There are few things in this world you can buy and say I’ll pay for them in 24 hours or not.

  21. “ If you’re paying with a flight credit from a previous trip you cancelled 24 hour refunds don’t apply.”

    Now that there are no change fees, does this exception matter? You can still cancel the reservation and get a refund in the form of another flight/trip credit, right?

  22. I just put a hold on a reservation Sunday night for award ticket , the AA website would not accept my credit card for some reason. I called AA for help they called me back 1 hr and 40 min latter to tell me I had to use the name of person the award miles were under. (Thus if that person did not have a Credit card it would not have worked—-website did not tell me that)

    But I put the reservation on hold for 24 hrs while i waited for AA to call me back . The website still would not process the card so the AA rep took it over the phone. Then she had to like that ticket with the companion who had to pay full price.

  23. This is really annoying because, as far as I can tell, AA hasn’t fully fixed its “glitch” in terms of being able to consistently apply trip credits and flight credits on AA.com without returning an error message.

    The work-around until now had been putting the reservation on hold and then calling to apply the credit and issue the ticket.

    Oh well. It’s a waste of customer — and reservation agent — time.

    That’s on brand for AA.

  24. The ability to put a hold is still on there for a cash ticket. Just as before, you need to be signed in to to your account so that AA knows who is placing the hold. Be sure to verify that it’s not just a temporary website glitch before blasting out an article.

  25. One thing I did notice is that it didn’t offer a hold if I didn’t select a specific seat. So maybe AA is screening out the ‘less committed’ but I can confirm that I can still hold for free as well as pay to hold up to 7 days.

  26. @ tomri – The hold for award tickets is still available and it’s for five days (in almost all cases; I believe Iberia flights are an exception).

  27. Huh! @KD, I don’t get that result – no hold option for me, even when I select the seats I want, and booking a “paid” trip, not award travel. You must be one of the fortunate few. I’m Platinum Pro for this year. Maybe holds remain available at higher AAdvantage levels ?

    @C_M, thanks for the info!

  28. Why would people need a 5 day award hold?
    If I’m not mistaken AA won’t let you put a hold on if you don’t have enough miles.
    Might as well just book it then, because it is free to cancel.
    What’s the benefit?

  29. option to hold reservation is still there for me when booking a paid ticket. I don’t think it’s actually “eliminated” as much as maybe they’re testing or experimenting.

  30. Once again American does what is good for American.
    The hold feature was great for planning and not getting placed on hold or never getting a call back about flights being a AA member means nothing it’s all about the money
    Time to start using another airline now they are all the same and American has become to big for it’s own shoes
    Moving on it’s a shame the crew at American is great but upstairs and the bean counters MONEY MONEY is all that matters
    Bring back the 24 hold it works for everybody

  31. I would use the hold option to see if the fare changed in the 24 hours. Earlier this year I booked a flight to Las Vegas. The first time I booked it rye fare was $272. I put it on hold. The next day I went to check on the fare. It had gone down to $252. So I canceled the original booking. I rebooked at the new price and put it on hold. Went back the next day and checked the fare again and it was down to $232.. so I canceled and rebooked and put on hold. I did this for 5 consecutive days. The fare eventually dropped to $162. So having the option to hold saved me over $100

  32. That’s interesting – I just held 2 reservations for 24 hours on aa.com. I believe they used to have the option to hold for longer w/a fee, which I no longer see, but I was able to do a 24 hour hold today…

  33. I am a lifetime AA Gold member and I have successfully used the 24 hold option multiple times since this article was written.

  34. I’m glad to see this and am happy to give kudos where kudos are due. But I’d also like to know why AA decided to walk this back? What changed in their rationale? Did they get too much blowback from customers/BA readers?

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